Room ★★★★½

”Remember how Alice wasn’t always in Wonderland? Well, I wasn’t always in Room”

Lisbon & Estoril Film Festival #6

Many found Lenny Abrahamson’s Frank to be a quirky, off-kilter tale as the film soon rose to the status of indie-darling. I on the other hand thought that the film was pretty slight and surprising detached and unfunny. So when I heard that Emma Donoghue’s novel Room was going to be adapted by the same director of Frank, I’m not going to lie, but my left eyebrow rose with suspicion and disbelief; I did not know if he had the chops to tackle such a theme. Room’s poor advertising did not excite me either, as I found it to be chockfull of spoilers and it seemed as though it was going to be a sap fest rather than a smart observation of these fictitious events. Thankfully all of that adds to nothing negative as in fact Room is one of the finest pictures I have seen all year.

Beware of the Spoilers Ahead

Joy Newsome is seventeen years old, she’s probably the typical teenager who flirts with boys her own age and spends nights out with her friends. She’s into The White Stripes and Radiohead and quite a lot of her time is spent with the practice of relay race I believe; she’s a sprinter. Where her life will lead to no one knows, but who knows if not a bright place. Sadly her path is trespassed, violated by a man who seemingly had a dog in need of some help. She’s abducted, stolen from her own life and sent into a cubicle no larger than a toilet room. Seven years she spends her days there, at first alone, only to later on be accompanied by her son, Jack, who bloomed from the terrible abuses Joy suffered. Soon Joy becomes Ma’ as she no longer as to think for herself only, she decides for both of them.

Eventually brave Jack who’s only world he’s ever seen is Room, helps Ma’ get out of Room for good. Everything is seen through the eyes of this little boy and even Room, a dark, grim, partition seems to have some wonder and marvel in his eyes; but he hasn’t seen any of those yet. The look in the boy’s face when he looks at the sky for the first-time is nothing short of spine-chilling, the awe in the kid’s eyes is palpable and touching; that is one of the picture’s most memorable and heart-wrecking scenes.

But even though Jack’s character is the lead one, because let’s be true, he’s our main character, the character that has most on screen-time, the truth is that I found Joy’s portrayal to be the most interesting one. There’s a paradox between Jack’s and Joy’s character, because Jack isn’t able to grasp everything that has happen and that is happening, he’s too innocent and young to fully comprehend the situation, whilst contrariwise Joy is overwhelmed with the situation, she’s too aware of what has happened and she is struggling to move on.

It is interesting to notice that her depression worsens when she gets out of Room, which is rather fascinating since you would expect her to finally be joyful and happy, at least to some extent since she was finally safe and free, reunited with her family and with Jack by her side. But that’s not what happens. Joy worsens because as she got out of Room and got shipped home, she realized how life could not be as it was. She realizes everything that she has missed throughout these seven years, the sense that her life was stolen from her is overwhelming; even though she might not be in Room any longer the truth is that Room will stay with her forever.

Joy’s life is likely to be ruled by depression as her past will always haunt her, she’s never going to be able to have normal life, her friends and family will possibly remain distant and love relationships will be hard to strike due to all the past violations. But the film is a little bit more cheerful, well maybe hopeful is a better word. At its end Joy and Jack go back to Room, this because Jack asked to, he spent five years of his life there so in a way he feels that Room is home, but now Room seems dreadful in the kid’s eyes because now he has taken a peak into the wonders and infinity of the world. Eventually both say bye to Room as a wide shot shows the snow falling and our characters leaving Room for the last time, closing this gate of their lives and hopefully moving on.

I’m Done with Spoilers from now on

Even though many of the film’s praise has to be given to Lenny Abrahamson’s surprising turn as a director, since he’s able to craft and create a handsome, confident and polished feature, one must save the honors to the fantastic acting displayed in Room; without these visceral, raw, gut-wrecking performances Abrahamson’s work would seem minimal.

A story of such bravery and courage required brave and courageous performances and fortunately Room is blessed with some of the finest performances 2015 will see. Jacob Tremblay for instance is an absolute knock out of a casting choice; the kid owns the lead role in this picture as he impresses his way through. This is one of the most striking child performances I’ve ever seen. Tremblay’s sensibilities gave the picture a tenderness and innocence that were desperately needed (but hard to get) since Room is seen through the kid’s eyes. Who knows what the future holds for this kid, but one thing’s for sure, he’s talented and he deserves some recognition for this beautifully humble turn.

Brie Larson continues to punch her way through the indie sphere and it seems as though this time around she’s going to be able to make a crack into the awards competition. Better known for her supporting roles in a vast sea of pictures, Larson’s name and face became recognizable after the brilliant Short-Term 12; her performance there is still one of the most powerful I’ve seen this whole decade. Larson’s take on Joy is subtle and mesmerizingly truthful as she disappears into what is a career defining performance that might just turn Larson from indie-darling, to major player in the movie industry.

Also in the acting department I would like to highlight and give a shout-out to Joan Allen. Many forget that she’s a three time Academy Award nominated actress of immense talent and it is unfortunate the fact that in the last handful of years she has been forgotten. Her routine in Room is the best work I’ve seen her do in ages and who knows, this performance might just take her to the red carpet once again. Likewise in the supporting branch we find the always reliable William H. Macy who’s only in it for a few moments, but it was nice to see his face in the big screen. Sean Bridgers is a less recognizable face but his role in Room, even if short, is vital, and he fulfills it with ease.

Luckily Room isn’t a sentimental paper thin novel adaptation made for awards-bait purposes, as for that matter the film is led by its authenticity, emotional rawness and truthful performances that were able to grasp both the horrors of the subject matter and the wonder of a child’s eyes.

Rating: A-